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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on July 12, 2000. All rights reserved.
For Jasna Polana, a Professional Test
It is media day for the Instinet Classic, the first
major tournament to come to the Tournament Players Club at Jasna Polana,
July 17 to 23. Some of the assembled golf writers, having played the
course from the relatively tame (read, shorter) Player tees, are writing
off this tournament as a laugher: "The pros are gonna eat this
course up," they predict.
But as my old high school golf coach, Joe DeMario, used to say, "no
course is easy." He would say this wherever we happened to be
playing: Glenwood Country Club in Old Bridge, Tamarack Golf Course
in East Brunswick, or the more demanding Forsgate East or West courses
in Monroe Township.
Next week the newly opened Tournament Players Club at Jasna Polana
will have its first test, as a field of pros — granted, Senior
PGA Tour pros, over age 50 — play the 7,098-yard tract at the
former Johnson estate. That’s 7,098 yards from the TPC tees, the farthest
back at this course, which holds four sets of tees on each hole.
The Instinet Classic, formerly the Bell Atlantic Classic (Bell Atlantic
decided to discontinue title sponsorship of the classic three months
ago), takes place at Jasna Polana from Monday through Sunday, July
17 through 23. Practice rounds and pro-ams begin Monday, July 17,
and tournament competition takes place Friday through Sunday, July
21 through 23. Saturday and Sunday rounds will be broadcast from 3:30
to 6 p.m. nationally on ESPN, the sports cable television channel.
This marks the first time this Senior PGA tournament, which had always
been held at Philadelphia-area courses, such as Hartefield National,
where Tom Jenkins won last year, comes to the New Jersey/New York
marketplace. A portion of proceeds from the Instinet Classic will
benefit the Abramson Cancer Research Institute at the University of
Pennsylvania Cancer Center. Instinet, as title sponsor, has increased
the tournament purse (the monies divided among top finishing players)
from last year’s $1.1 million to $1.4 million. First prize is $210,000,
up from last year’s $165,000, and this year’s second place prize is
This Instinet Classic could be the first of many, because Douglas
Atkin, CEO of Instinet Corp., an electronic trading company, was born
and raised in Princeton. Atkin tells the media crowd in the marble-floored
circular Grand Atrium at Jasna Polana that he has vivid memories of
the old Johnson estate from his childhood. "There was myself and
about eight other children of my age, we used to call ourselves the
Parkside Drive gang. I have memories of being escorted off the property
by the guards here at Jasna Polana," Atkin laughs. "So I had
to sponsor a golf tournament to actually get in here."
As a kid in Princeton Atkin attended Johnson Park Elementary School.
Later he earned a bachelors in economics and art history at Tufts
and joined Instinet, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Reuters Group PLC,
in 1984. President of the New York-based company since 1998, Atkin
has broadened the firm’s role as a global brokerage service.
For Instinet the bottom line of this tournament will surely include
TV ratings and crowds. Provided that tournament organizers have the
traffic and parking logistics worked out — and every indication
is that they do — the Instinet Classic could draw upwards of 100,000
people over the course of seven days.
For the fans the bottom line is a challenging event that is competitive
to the last hole. Three players are worthy of a close following by
spectators as they make their rounds about "the golf field,"
as Basia Johnson, widow of the late J. Seward Johnson, is fond of
calling the place.
Defending champion Tom Jenkins hails from Austin, Texas, and plays
out of the Hills at Lakeway in West Austin, not far from Willie Nelson’s
fabled Cut ‘n’ Putt Studios in Pedernales, a unique recording studio
that includes a nine-hole golf course.
Another likely contender is former football player turned PGA touring
pro Hale Irwin, hot on the heels of his U.S. Senior Open victory at
Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, who played Jasna Polana
last fall for the television taping of "Shell’s Wonderful World
of Golf." Another strong contender: Bruce Fleisher, who dominated
the Senior PGA Tour during most of 1999. While Jenkins and Fleisher
may not be well-known names among casual golf fans, certainly Irwin,
who has several U.S. Open and Masters wins under his belt from the
regular PGA Tour, should help to draw a crowd.
Other better-known golfers committed to play include
George Archer, Gibby Gilbert, Lanny Wadkins, Miller Barber, Orville
Moody, and Jim Dent, an African-American who once held the distinction
of being the longest driver on the PGA tour, regularly able to send
the ball 350 to 390 yards.
While 1999 attendance at the Bell Atlantic Classic totaled 120,000
over six days, attendance at the Instinet Classic may not be as high.
But if major players like Lee Trevino or others commit to the tournament,
then attendance could soar. At this point, it appears that Trevino
— who is worshipped in New Jersey and Scotland — will be over
in St. Andrews, doing the best he can in the British Open which takes
place on the same weekend as the Instinet Classic.
Provided Princeton weather is typically hot and humid, — the course
should prove to be fairly demanding, especially since the greens will
be rolled and cut again, just before the tournament opens, to 1/32nd
of an inch. This means that the putting greens will take on the consistency
of the short carpeting found in your office, making the ball roll
extremely fast. Add to this some creative undulations added by world
class golfer and golf course architect Gary Player, and you have all
the fixings for a course that doesn’t play like a walk in the park.
Jenkins, who was voted "Comeback Player of The Year" last
year on the Senior PGA Tour, tells the golf writers assembled at the
media day that he is "still trying to figure out where I came
back from!" Then Jenkins asks a question: "How many of you
today did not lose a golf ball?" When perhaps two golf writers
raise their hands, Jenkins suggests there should be an award for that,
since while the course doesn’t necessarily play long, it is fairly
tight, and as much as possible the existing stretches of forest have
been preserved, making it easy for a stray tee shot to turn into a
lost ball penalty.
"I’ve only seen pictures of this place, so I was very curious
to see what the place looked like," Jenkins says, "and it
was beyond my expectations."
Jenkins is speaking during the start of the U.S. Senior Open Week
at nearby Saucon Valley Golf Club in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. "There
are a lot of similarities between here and Saucon Valley," he
says, noting that Saucon Valley does not have Jasna Polana’s patches
of forest. "Players who bother to play the practice rounds here
will have a definite advantage," Jenkins adds. "I will play
three rounds plus the pro-am prior to the actual tournament."
The Pro-Am on Wednesday and Thursday, July 19 and 20, brings together
course members, tournament organizers, and Senior PGA Tour professionals.
Jenkins is positive about his competitive stake in the tournament.
"Mentally, it’s a little bit easier out here on the Senior Tour,"
Jenkins says, noting that of the 110-odd players on the Senior PGA
Tour, only 70 or so have committed to playing the Instinet Classic.
"You have a cut you have to deal with on the regular PGA Tour,
and when you’re just starting out with a family, that’s a lot of pressure
on yourself. I think the Senior Tour gives players a little more of
positive attitude, and you start developing a confidence you never
really had before."
Asked for specifics about the course, Jenkins says he likes the course
and the type of bent grass used on fairways and greens at Jasna Polana.
Jenkins called the 491-yard, par 4, 9th hole intimidating and said
the same is true of the 440-yard par 4 15th hole. At the 9th, players
need to drive the ball 220 yards — more from the championship
tees — to get in a good position to hit the sloping green on the
next shot. No. 15, with woods down the left side and fairway sand
traps along the right, doglegs left to a green with several tricky
Depending on which way the wind blows, the par 3, 200-yard 17th hole
may also prove a difficult test of golf. Aside from the large pond,
the pros will also have to contend with a drastically undulating green
and several green-side sand traps.
"The greens are very fast and the undulations on the greens here
are large, so it can become very scary," Jenkins says, who predicts
scores will be in the neighborhood of 12 to 15 under par. Not "a
walk in the park" given that Hale Irwin just shot a 17-under par
to win the USGA’s Senior U.S. Open at Saucon Valley.
Jenkins joined the regular PGA Tour in 1973, but stopped competing
in 1985. "For about five or six years, I kind of let myself go,
but then, as I got closer to age 50, and the prospect of joining the
Senior Tour presented itself to me, I worked hard to get myself in
shape," he says. "You can’t just turn 50 and then decide you’re
going to join the Senior PGA Tour."
Jenkins geared himself up for entry into the Senior PGA Tour by regular
workouts and physical conditioning. He adds that "Bruce Fleisher
has been working very hard to stay competitive."
"You have to be in some kind of decent shape to play," Jenkins
says. "It’s still very competitive out here on the Senior PGA
Tour." And next week we will find out if Jasna Polana is up to
— Richard J. Skelly
Polana , Route 206, Princeton, 610-239-2700. Preliminary events
begin daily at 8 a.m., tournament tee time is 9 a.m. Spectator’s daily
fee is $25; week’s pass $85; both available at the gate. Monday,
July 17, through Sunday, July 23.
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